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How to Use the Different Spices on Your Spice Rack

Our New Spice Shelf!
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Our new spice shelf, completed!

You may have been given a spice rack complete with spices as a present, and have been looking at it every time you go into the kitchen, but you may not have used any of the spices, because you are not exactly sure what to do with them.

Black peppercorns are a must in every spice rack, and most come in jars with grinders attached, which is great news if you don’t have a pepper grinder yet. These are actually indispensable as pepper powder doesn’t retain its flavour well, and black pepper is, I think, a must have spice which I put in all savoury dishes. You can also use whole black peppercorns for making your own stock and for sauces. However, most recipes call for ground black pepper.

Cloves usually feature in spice racks, and these are good to flavour apple pies along with green cardamom seeds. You can also stick a clove or two into a whole onion if you are making your own chicken stock, so that these don’t get lost in the stock. Cloves are also useful if you have toothache. Put a clove on the sore tooth and clamp down on it. The oil in the clove is a mild pain-killer.

Green cardamoms can be used in their husks in curries and savoury dishes, but for desserts, discard the husk and crush the little seeds then sprinkle them over apples or other fruits that you are making a pie or compte with.

If you have a vanilla pod or two, then take them out of the little jar they came in and bury them in sugar so that you have your own vanilla sugar for cakes and confectionary. When you use a whole vanilla pod, you can wash it and wipe it then re-bury it in the sugar. They actually last quite a few months before they lose the intensity of their flavour.

Saffron is a wonderful spice, and is a mood enhancer. The ancients believed it was an aphrodisiac. It colours rice dishes and imparts a golden colour to creamy sauces. Don’t use it in curried dishes though, use turmeric instead (poor man’s saffron) as other spices overwhelm saffron. Be careful when you cook with turmeric as it is a dye and stains things yellow.

Cumin seeds are one of my favourite spices, and are good dry-fried and then ground, or put into a dish whole. I tend to put them in most dishes and find that they are especially good with beef, or buffalo. Cook them first with ginger root if you are using it and also chilli powder, as these spices emit their flavour better when they are fried a little first (with onion and garlic thrown in after a minute).

Nutmeg is a good addition to a creamy sauce, or a cheese sauce although teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg goes a long way. Whole nutmegs keep for a few months, so one will last you a long time.

Cinnamon and cassia bark can also keep for some time, and can be used in sweet or savoury dishes. A stick of cinnamon can be added to stewed fruit or to a meat dish such as Greek stifado which requires cinnamon and allspice. Allspice is a little used spice, but is a useful substitute for juniper berries, and goes well with meat dishes, adding an extra depth of flavour.

These are the most common spices found in spice racks. However there are many more spices which are growing in popularity, such as grains of paradise. If you have ground garam masala in your spice rack, perhaps you should think of making your own when you need it. You can experiment with different quantities of the spices and make one to your own taste.

I think that’s what cooking is really all about, experimenting with different tastes. So don’t just look at your spice rack- use those spices!

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